How a former Detroit Pistons blogger — Ohio's Jason Preston — became March Madness star
Update: Ohio did it again, knocking off the defending champions, 62-58.
He's also the Ohio Bobcats standout junior point guard and an NBA prospect, and a key reason the Mid-American Conference tournament champion 13-seed Ohio is a popular upset pick Saturday night against 4-seed Virginia at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana (7:15 p.m., TruTV).
“They are going to be writing a movie on his life,” Ohio coach Jeff Boals told Yahoo Sports recently. “This is the American dream.”
So how did Preston go from blogger to star on the court?
If you don't know his story, here's the CliffsNotes version:
He grew up a Pistons fan in Orlando in the 2000s, thanks to his mother, rooting for the Chauncey Billups-led Goin' to Work crew — also known as the last Pistons team to win a playoff game (2008).
Preston and his mom, Judith, were very close. When she died of lung cancer, he was just 16 years old, and the soft-spoken youngster withdrew. He tried to cope with the trauma by his love for basketball, but as a 6-foot, 140-pound senior guard, averaged two points per game for competitive Boone High School in Orlando. He scored 52 points total that season.
With no college buzz, Preston — nicknamed "Big Red" for his puffy red hair — saw the proverbial writing on the wall. Good thing he was prepared and knew what he wanted to do.
During his junior year, once he turned 17 in August of 2016, FanSided network Piston Powered allowed him to join the site as a writer, where he wrote for about six months on breaking news, analysis and game coverage (you can check out his author page, though if you'll be triggered by memories of Stanley Johnson, it might be best to avoid).
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He wanted to stick around the game, and enrolled at Central Florida to become a sportswriter.
But that summer, a friend asked him to fill a spot during an AAU tournament last minute, and Preston agreed and got noticed.
"Everyone was playing 40 minutes a game," Preston told ESPN this winter. "It was more of an opportunity. I didn't have a chance in high school, I was more of a shooter. I played on the ball a lot (in the AAU tournaments)."
He decided to put college on hold and attend Believe Preparatory Academy in Tennessee, which had five different teams. Preston, now 6 feet 4 and 187 pounds, earned more run as the season progressed and gained a little interest from schools, taking a campus visit to Maryland-Eastern Shore. But he didn't have any highlight film.
So late in the season, during an eight-hour bus ride, Preston asked coaches for all their film, screen-recorded his own clips with his phone and sent it to a friend to create the mix.
The highlights went to Twitter and were noticed by Bo Ryan's son, Will, an assistant at Ohio.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Now a junior, and playing for his second head coach in Boals, Preston's story went viral nationally in November, when he led Ohio to a near road upset of then-No. 8 Illinois, losing 77-75. Preston collected 31 points (13-for-23 shooting), six rebounds, eight assists and zero turnovers against the Illini and star guard Ayo Dosunmu.
For the season, he's averaging 16.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 7.2 assists, and has been called "poor man’s LaMelo Ball," by an NBA scout, because of his size and playmaking ability — and funky hair to boot. He's a contender to be drafted in the second round if he declares for the draft, but a big NCAA tournament could help his stock.
He led Ohio to three blowout wins in the MAC tournament last week in Cleveland, averaging 22.7 points, and setting the stage for a potential run in the NCAA tournament, where scouts and fans alike will be watching.
Now, the former Pistons blogger can help his team become the third straight Ohio Bobcats squad to win at least one round in the NCAA tournament (2012, defeated Michigan and South Florida; 2010, stunned Georgetown).
Who knows ... maybe he'll even become a Piston down the road.